Wine tasting notes, long bastions of affectations and preciousness, have come under scrutiny recently. Apparently Eric Asimov spends a chapter savaging them in his recent book. The other day, over on wineberserkers.com, Bill Klapp performed a merciless forensic analysis on a note. But then there’s this:
Surely the problem with many wine writers is not that they write tasting notes but that they aren’t very good writers.
Ouch. Tasting notes are often badly written, which may be the the shortcomings of the writer. Possibly compounding the situation, or adding a new wrinkle, is the sheer quantity of tasting notes some critics produce–it’s hard to say something original when churning out dozens of tasting notes about similar wines that you’ve had on a few minutes with. Sadly, many wine publications appear to be joyless tasting note (and score) factories.
Throwing the Barolo out with the bathwater?
Even though they may be hard to write, tasting notes still can play in important role: a reader has to know if she’s in for a Barolo or a Bourgeuil or a Barossa shiraz. And even in a horizontal tasting, where the differences can be small, some discernible distinctions can still be be conveyed. Since they are inherently boring, it helps if tasting notes include an opinion or wit. The mass production of tasting notes leads repetition and the reaching for fanciful descriptors. And, really, it’s the rare consumer that skims skims the tasting notes to find a wine to buy–fancy a wine with some “Asian spice”? Or notes of saddle leather? Granted, I would definitely seek out a syrah that has some black olive character or a pinot noir with acidity so they certainly can be useful. But tasting notes are best produced and consumed in moderation–the tasting note as artisanal product, if you will.